Dean Virginia Roach on Women Leadership in Education

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Dean Virginia Roach, Ed.D., had many firsts in her career. Before joining Fordham in 2015, she led Bank Street College of Education to develop its first fully-online program as well as to reenter national accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education after a decade hiatus. Prior to that, she was the first female chair of the educational leadership department at George Washington University. Now she is the first female dean of Fordham’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) in the school’s 100 years of history.

So it is only natural that one of her research interests is women in educational leadership. “As many researchers, you tend to be interested in something that really hits home,” Roach said.

“Further, when people come to higher education as professors, there is a hierarchy and career track in terms of assistant, associate and full professor,” said Roach. In her research on women in higher education, she found that clinical and assistant professorships are disproportionately occupied by women, while full professorships are disproportionately populated by men.

“When some male professors took paternity leave, they were not the primary caregivers of the children. They were actually using it as another sabbatical leave and worked on their research, whereas women who took maternity leave actually took the leave to be the primary caregivers, which extended their tenure or promotion clock. Once they extended the clock, in some departments or divisions, they were taken off track.”

Meanwhile, she also found that female faculty tend to do much more student advising and committee work, but they are subject to harsher reviews by students.

“Female faculty are graded on they way they look and they are graded on to what extent they are nurturing to students whereas male faculty are not graded that way,” Roach said. “I think it is important for me to be cognizant of that research, so as I look at things like student evaluations, I can take that into consideration.”

Last year at the American Education Research Association (AERA) conference, Roach co-presented a paper titled “Does Gender Matter? A Multinational Study of Women Educational Leaders.” She looked at women leaders in education in Ethiopia, Bangladesh, the United States and New Zealand and found that women educators in developing countries have stronger core ego strength than their counterparts in so-called developed nations.

“We’ve interviewed women who were locked in their room so they couldn’t get out to work, who were attacked outside the home because they are working, spat on, had their purse stolen,” Roach said. “Yet these women persevered. Resilience is really the hallmark of their work.”

At the GSE, where female professors outnumber their male counterparts, Roach said her primary goal is to continue to diversify the faculty and help them think about career paths and their development.

“It’s important for me to model the kinds of things I ask other faculty to do,” Roach said. She presented her research at a brown bag lunch series and created a hybrid class last spring in the hopes of encouraging other faculty to do the same.

Meanwhile, Roach said that she would like to make the promotion process transparent and provide the faculty with appropriate support as they move up the faculty ranks or decide to move into leadership positions.

When asked about which female education leaders inspired her the most, Roach named Mary Hatwood Futrell, a former president of the National Education Association and a former education dean at George Washington University.

“She had a great influence in shaping the graduate school of education, and yet she did it in a very humane posture. It was a very strong mentorship,” Roach said.

This post was written by Larry Tung, a CLAIR doctoral student.

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